Questioning Benedict XVI

February 07, 2022
June 17, 1977, Pope Paul VI presents the cardinal's birretta to Msgr. Joseph Ratzinger, Archbishop of Munich and Freising

In Germany, a campaign is raging that is aimed at discrediting the figure of the former Roman pontiff by reproaching him for his inaction in the management of certain clerics guilty of abuse. The Vatican came to the defense of the Pope Emeritus, regretting “the search for easy scapegoats and summary judgments.” 

On January 20, 2022, a new study on abuse in the Church, commissioned by the diocese of Munich and Freising, currently headed by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, delivered its conclusions.

At the end of a voluminous 1,600-page report, the law firm of Westphahl Spilker Wastl, implicates the former Pope Benedict XVI, accusing him of not having taken the necessary measures to remove several clerics guilty of abuse, when he headed up the diocese of Munich.

Modifying a first account, the pope emeritus confirmed, on January 24, to the KNA agency, that, in 1980, he had participated in a meeting concerning the accommodation in his diocese of Munich of a priest suspected of sexual assaults on minors.

His private secretary, Msgr. Georg Gänswein, specifies that “no decision had been taken at this meeting concerning the pastoral engagement of the priest concerned.”

A few days later, the Holy See published, on its official information site, a defense of the former Roman pontiff: Andrea Tornielli, in his capacity as editorial director of the Vatican media, signed a text that necessarily received the approval of the Secretariat of State.

Who Benefits?

The fact that the figure of Benedict XVI, 94 years old at this time, is being thrown into the world media does not seem to be a mere coincidence.

This is what the Bishop Emeritus of Rhège-en-Emilie, Italy, suggests: “It is a maneuver against Pope Ratzinger which comes from within the Church,” reports Msgr. Massimo Camisasca, who is referring to the “liberal sectors of the Church embodied in the excesses of the German synodal path.”

An invitation to travel to the banks of the Rhine, or more precisely to the banks of the Isar, a tributary of the Danube, which crosses the city of Munich. Because the questioning of Joseph Ratzinger comes at just the right moment for the current archbishop of the Bavarian city.

Indeed, Cardinal Marx, a member of the “C9” - the council of cardinals charged by the Holy Father with carrying out the reform of the Roman Curia - presented, a few months ago, following a first series revelations of alleged abuse covered up by the diocese, a formal resignation to Pope Francis, who then hastened to confirm the high prelate to his post.

Since the interest shifted to Benedict XVI, the resignation of the German porporato is no longer relevant: “I am ready to continue to serve if it is useful in order to implement the new measures that must be taken in the framework of the reform of the Church,” says Cardinal Marx.

The latter points to the “systemic disaster” of abuse, and “the importance of advancing the reforms discussed within the framework of the German synodal path,” because the Church will not be able to overcome the abuse crisis successfully “without a truly profound renewal,” according to him.

On January 27, the high prelate went further, claiming he does not see “in homosexuality, an obstacle to priestly ordination,” with the condition of respecting the vow of chastity.

The Bishops Across the Rhine

The charge against the former sovereign pontiff seems well orchestrated: the bishop of Essen, “invites the pope emeritus to recognize his responsibility.” “In this kind of case, the responsibility is above all personal, and all the consequences must be drawn,” warns Msgr. Franz-Josef Overbeck.

For the Bishop of Aix-la-Chapelle, Joseph Ratzinger should publicly acknowledge his guilt: “there are situations where, when one is guilty, it is not enough to acknowledge one's faults in the secredy of prayer or in confession,” Msgr. Helmut Dieser declares, with moral overtones that unknown of him.

The coup de grace came from the president of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK), who did not hesitate to mention the “disastrous behavior and concealment” by Benedict XVI. “The moment of truth has arrived,” concludes Bishop Georg Bätzing melodramatically.

Fr. Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was not sparing either of the former German Pope, whose pontificate he says will “necessarily have to be reassessed.” In an interview with BR24 Extra, Fr. Zollner says it's important that Benedict XVI “acknowledge his mistakes and apologize.”

Lay people involved in the synodal process are not left out: the activists of the Maria 2.0 movement are calling for the pope emeritus to “renounce using his papal name as well as the titles and insignia associated with him.”

However, in an interview with Die Tagepost, Msgr. Marc Aillet, Bishop of Bayonne, Lescar and Oloron, is surprised by what he considers to be media harassment. Benedict XVI is being “convicted a priori, without proof, in an investigation which is not judicial, and is the subject of a media trial which exposes him in a targeted and disproportionate way to public vindictiveness,” he remarked.

Without wanting to either defend or accuse the former Roman pontiff, in a case about which all the elements are not known, it is not difficult however to grasp the intentions at work. This attack against Joseph Ratzinger is an opportunity to discredit his pontificate, considered in the eyes of the innovators as too conservative.